Listening to Obama administration officials struggle to explain how their new "interagency action plan" is going to reduce the coal industry's harm to Appalachia's environment, we were reminded that the U.S. Office of Surface Mining is still without a director.
And it shows.
The administration is taking some commendable baby steps toward restoring the rule of environmental law in the eastern coalfields and seems to have a genuine desire to do the right thing, just not strong enough approaches to doing it.
For example, a new memorandum of understanding was touted as a way to ensure more thorough and transparent consideration of the impacts of strip-mining on water before the government issues a mining permit.
That sounds good, except the memo does not give the Environmental Protection Agency enough time to conduct adequate reviews, especially of the 108 mine-permit requests already pending from coal companies. The practical effect could be, not a slowdown in mountaintop removal, but the expedited permitting process promised by the Bush administration.
Also, sorely missing from last week's announcement was a commitment to restore the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to what it was before being undermined by almost three decades of policy and regulatory concessions by OSM to the coal industry.
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